I did two interviews; one with Artists Alliance, one with Phantom Billstickers, about this project. Read more here:
I did two interviews; one with Artists Alliance, one with Phantom Billstickers, about this project. Read more here:
I be myself. I build these things to express and shelter this being now. There is no shelter, there is only being. I cannot protect myself from who I am, I can only accept it and show it. I am the storm. I am the heavy rain. I am the gentle shy sunshine. I work to make myself visible. I shed layers of shame which would numb me.
There is no shelter, only expression
Making myself visible, finding the threads
To join together in difference
Threads of the feminine
Weaving myself in.
This is a piece of writing I had published last year about the process of writing and making. For a long time I’ve used the metaphor of building. Sometimes building up, sometimes tearing down. There’s a sense of submission that happens, a letting oneself go into the unknown. So often it feels like there is no way through, or at least no clear way. Anyway here I tried to describe some of it… 4th Floor journal
It began swimmingly, so relaxed and happy to be drawing, as always, after a big sculpture project. just falling back onto the page, confident, happy, playing. And then there were four. Usually there are three. This should have been a warning perhaps, as in the fairy stories, numbers are important; towers of salt, wishes, seven league boots… but I was flying. At that first stage of the drawings it is so much fun, skipping from one to another, playing with layers. We’d been writing you and I, about bodies, about other bodies which lie within us, which fight to emerge, about getting to know the hidden places in us. I felt that these things were spilling with ease onto the page, that I was making good work, real work. Always I work on more than one drawing at a time. This is a wisdom learnt through practice; that when one works with gestural, spontaneous line as a vital part of the work, it must remain feeling free, with options, with space. Narrowing it down shuts that down, makes me tight, afraid. There is always a problem with pressure and expectation for me, and I have learnt how to avoid that crippling feeling, by always reassuring myself that I am free to move on whenever I get stuck. I have learnt the fine balance and difference between that and the time to stick with it, to dig through, to be persistent. All of these things I have learnt, but sometimes, something happens, and it’s like the stories where a hero looks into the eyes of the monster and can’t look away, is locked in conflict until one must eventually win.
I caught the eye of the drawing.
And it would not let me go.
We fell together into the blackest void, battling each other hard, falling and fighting.
There was no end, and no relief. When I was there, I could not look at any other drawing, and I when I was not there, she plagued me. The problem lived in my body, tightening across my shoulder blades, cranking my hips tension, bringing sleep with no rest. As I battled, my energy leached, my breathing shallow, my confidence sapped. I taught my drawing class and thought, I am a fraud, I shouldn’t be teaching this class. The more I worked, the tighter she became, and the more anxious I was, the closer he came to death, to being overworked, to being lost beyond any solution.
And still I could not let go.
I asked him, begged her….
What do you want? I will give you anything, what is it you want? I can’t give you what you want if you won’t tell me… I’m trying everything I can think of, I’m working in the dark, just \ give me a hint.. JUST TALK TO ME
I thought a lot about how making art is so much like a relationship, how I learn so much, and how this was like when you know it is going wrong, but you can’t let go, because you hope. You see these things which tell you, it could be different, maybe if I just, I’m just not trying hard enough, she will change, we will change, I can see the light….
until there is no light, and no breath.
And still you try.
These things, they teach me compassion in buckets. The keeping trying. Because where there is life, there is hope.
I knew I needed to try and relax my body. I swam, I meditated, I had a massage. She said your body’s not knotted, it’s just sad. I leant my whole body against ancient trees and asked them for help, I drank, I prayed.
And we fought.
And then there was an earthquake. All of the tears I had kept locked up and welling up in dams behind my shoulders came out. I cried with small lights and my dog to keep me company. But still not enough. Water was stuck in every crevice, and my body, as it had been for so many weeks now, dragged itself up to meet another day. I thought perhaps the drawings might have shifted in the night. No such luck….
Finally I brought in the troops. I showed …. they all said the same thing. You’re battling hard, but it’s not dead yet, you have to keep going. I said if this was a painting, I could bring in the light, but I can’t, it’s too late, I can’t lift it any more. But they said, keep trying.
I tired. I drank a beer. And thought, fuck it. Took it down off the wall and finger painted with white paint on it. I’d love to say it was wild and free but my body, my being was so exhausted, it was a poor and humble copy of remembered marks. I went home.
The next day I came in, I’d put the drawing on the floor to finger paint on it. By putting paint on it I knew it meant it could not be part of this body of work. I’d made this deal, and that deal had clenched this drawing in its clutches. Listening to Bjork; “There’s too much… pressure.”
The paint, set her free. Finally he was set apart, something different. And there, on the floor, I saw it so clearly. This being is not part of that body of work, this creature is the bridge to the next body of work. The whole battle has been because I was trying to make her something they weren’t, something that I had pre decided upon and forgotten that the process will have its own way and decide for itself. I was asking the wrong questions. I was asking, what do you want to be (within the possible realm of what I will allow you to be) What do you want me to do? ( to make you be what I need you to be) ETCETERA!!! Like a physical lifting, and a huge gratitude, for the battle, for the learning, for the reminder; the holding leaves you dissatisifed, frustrated, annoyed… while they are not what you need them to be. You let go, you see them for just who they are, and a new rush of love floods; the compassionate joyous love at just letting another being be who they are.
This drawing is the bridge to works where I make collage drawings, where they are made of lots of pieces, where they are big with pieces, with all the fragments of themselves, of others, of everything they have collected. I have wanted to make these works for a long time, and I have tried, but they have not been born. Yet. This drawing battled me until I saw what it’s gifts were. It was so determined to show me.
I immediately got out all these pieces from other drawings, adored fragments, chunks, encrusted layers. I played with them, layering them, piling them beside the drawing. I wanted to let him know right away that I see him, I allow him, I am grateful, so grateful, that I have, and I am listening, and I am acting on what I hear, immediately.
Already everything looks alive, and everything sings.
And I can walk
As with many things, you really had to be there. Once upon a time someone said to me about a work “It’s like the carnival squeezed through this corridor, and didn’t make it, and left a whole bunch of stuff stuck up in the ceiling, in the corners.” I paraphrase, but…. he also said “It’s like you’ve tried to heal the building, and it hasn’t worked, but the healing has become the work.” With ‘The way you have held things’, I did not aim to ‘heal’ people or land in Christchurch, but I did desperately want to make something real, to make something genuine. It has never mattered to me so much what people thought of my work. Because it was about building, structures, shelter. Everything which is most tender in this broken city. The hardest thing was to find the place to speak from. I realised after a good deal of frozen panic, that the place, the places, were my broken places. I may not know the devastation of an earthquake, but I know grief, rage, hope, love. These are the places I worked from. These are the places I spoke from. We watered the ground together.
Show the light and the dark
Bury fabric in the earth
Let it be beautiful and carry the earth in its pockets
I would like to make dark places
And sometimes they are not beautiful, they are real caves
Making open gaps to let the light through
Light through dark earth
How do I hold this?
I realised I was building a palace
I want to make you chandeliers
These are our darkest rooms
It will be shaped like now
My cracking lights
My rage comes from other places, but it is the same rage.
The indomitable spirit of tidying shit up
It is full of holes
Your skeleton sticks out
I want to reach in, I want to say, it is not hopeless
Your time, your words
PAINT ON THE BUILDINGS
We carry everywhere we have been in lumpy sacks
They dug and dug
Scrubbing and scrubbing and it never coming clean
One by one
Try to take out each piece, only as you can,
Only as you can stand it
Do not try to swallow it.
There is a kind of respect in the stacking, and another kind in the throwing
My grief comes from other places, but it is the same, grief.
How to make this?
How to make this.
Images by John Collie, Project part of Christchurch Art Gallery Te Puna O Waiwhetu, Outer Spaces programme
To speak, to write, to tell my stories. And there have been times when this has not felt like enough. But we have learnt, through feminism, through queer theory, through all of our ongoing fights for liberations of our peoples, that the personal is political. Because we cannot be what we cannot see. The place where you wonder if you are ok, if there are any others like you; this is a quiet place. And the silence is a numbed limb.
One of my monikers has been Scheherezade. She’s the woman from The Arabian Nights, who kept herself alive by telling stories, always finishing right before dawn, so that her murderous potential husband was compelled to keep her alive for one more night, to hear the end of the story. It’s a story with a lot of control, manipulation, like most of our fairy tales. But for me, it’s important, because it is stories which have kept me alive. Jeannette Winterson writes in The Passion, “Trust me, I’m telling you stories”. We get given the wrong stories sometimes, too narrow, too small. Sometimes the stories don’t have anyone we recognise in them. Sometimes they’re just not brave enough.
I want to make the world bigger, not smaller. I want to make more things possible, to open and open.
The world we live in is all narratives, and it’s the dominant ones which keep us quiet, tell us our stories are odd, marginal, unimportant. But they are all we have. And they belong to us. And they are all true. And how do we take care of our stories? Stories love to be told, and they love to be listened to. And sometimes, when they’re finding their feet, their language, they need to be listened to by people who just want to hear them, however ragged they are. And sometimes, often, our stories take time, because they need entirely new languages to be able to speak. Because the dominant language didn’t invent words yet for our sexuality, our genders, our dreams. This means that sometimes they are hard to understand, because they don’t walk in a straight line. How could a queer story walk in a straight line?
And sometimes they take time, because they are hard to tell. I’m learning Te reo Maori right now, and it’s hard. He said to me “Keep going, there are many in us, and they don’t all want us to learn, they are not all with us. Keep going, it’s yours if you love it”
And often, our stories take enormous courage. Because we are ashamed, afraid, unused to hearing our own voices. I am already ashamed of everything I have not said, of the struggles I have had to ‘just be myself’, of the time it has taken me to know who I am and speak that out. I berate myself – how can it have taken me 36 years? How did I not know better, faster? And sometimes, I remember; because I had to invent a whole new language. Because I had to try out story after story. Because I had to find a tribe, an identity, a whakapapa. Because I had to learn to make myself visible.
This is the only way I know how to be revolutionary. To tell my stories, in all their ragged, open, glittery, difficult glory. To place them on shaky legs and say darling, I believe in you, you can walk. To write them in secret and begin to tell them in public, and trust that you will want to listen. That there is someone there who is just hoping that these words might open the world a little wider, so they get to breathe themselves, walk themselves home.
And when you tell me with shining eyes, when I see through you your little child who got told today yes there is nothing wrong with you, when you give me glass stoppers and say these are for you, to remind you to never hold in your words, I know, this is the right story. This is the revolution.
I was asked to be a part of a panel called ‘Femme Velocity’ at CIty Gallery, Wellington, on Saturday 6th April 2013. I was so excited, because I thought I was being asked to speak on a queer panel exploring femme identity. I quickly realised this was not the case, that ‘femme’ was being used in another way. Below is my speech… queer revolution with love and compassion
I am Sian Torrington, a proud, out queer femme artist pirate. I usually love talking about my art, but today, I need to talk about Femme. Femme is a gender identity, and a sexual identity, and it’s my identity. It’s not just a cool word. Words are important. We live in a colonised country, and we know the importance of words. We know about what it means to take something from another culture without asking what it means or finding out its whakapapa. It’s called appropriation.
I am proud to be standing under the term Femme today.
Aych, a femme, boi identified fag, wrote;
“Femme is a word fought for.
Femme is a politic.”
It’s not just a cool word. It’s contested, fought for territory, and this is my fight for its visibility. Because if there’s one thing femme is really over, it’s being invisible.
This is a femme slam.
Disinterested in- easy answers / ordinary language.
Passionate about – abstract, visceral, embodied, brave, vulnerable attempts to describe being here. Femme pride and visibility, unapologetic queer revolution, with love and compassion
Acknowledge – everything I do comes from my own experience
Hope – if I do my very bravest best, then it also makes space for yours.
Note – All identities in this talk are self identified
Femme is process, Femme is there’s no way over, only through. Femme is ask, don’t tell. And, ask nicely.
This is my love poem to femme, which has set me free.
And it’s my love poem to Butch, boi, trans, genderqueer wonderful beings, who found me.
But first, some others words, because this isn’t just about me…
“FEMME SHARKS WILL RECLAIM THE POWER AND DIGNITY OF FEMALENESS BY ANY MEANS NECESSARY. WE’RE GIRLS BLOWN UP, TURNED INSIDE OUT, AND REMIXED……
Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha, from “FEMME SHARK MANIFESTO” pp287-288
“Me, Simone, and Dot” Chandra Mayor, pp 161-162
“Femme is costume and play…Femme is deeply loving those delicious butches… Femme is a political stance against the patriarchal strictures of society, a reclamation of “slut” and “whore” and “bitch,” and a you-can’t-shut-me-up fuck-you attitude….. Femme is the deepest part of me, the softest and the fiercest, all at once…..We’re not supposed to flaunt our vulnerabilities as fully self-possessed tools or weapons, without shame. …But I do have a name, a history, a community….Like it or not, I was born a femme. With every fuck-up, I figure it out a little more.”
Elizabeth Marston, a self identified ‘permaqueer trannydyke’, writes
“Let’s say that femme is dispossessed femininity. It’s the femininity of those who aren’t allowed to be real women and who have to roll their own feminine gender….cis-female lesbians….in the fifties…..contemporary femme dykes…..queens and trannies… femme gay men….
What these groups share, …is the illegitimacy of their femininity. That’s how I understand femme: badass, rogue, illegitimate femininity. … Femme is a move from dispossession to self-possession. We’re not allowed to be real, so we’ve figured out something else to be, something new – and that something is femme.”
Elizabeth Marston, “Rogue Femininity” P205 – 7
And this, from me
You say noone can read you and I think I AM TRYING
my hip says I don’t trust you
you say YOU WANT TOO MUCH and I say I AM TIRED OF PRETENDING I DON’T WANT ANYTHING
I thought, I can’t possibly be a lesbian, cos the beings I relate to are those divine drag queens.
Peacock, queen, proud, hard headed, tutu, goddess, darling, sugar blossom, princess, baby, witch, bitch, slut, loveliness, the girl who shines with smarts, hards, softs, pirate, proud glitter crazed hot haired high homo
I submit. I admit. I say please, Dance with me
Butch Boi . “ya all the women I’ve had encounters with have been pretty damn femme..they’ve all had struggles with expressing their femininity, because the world shames women about every fuckin thing, being prude is bad, being a slut is bad, being proud is bad, being overly modest is frumpy and unsexy like nerdy, not slutty nerdy which is better but its still slutty so its bad, and being uncool is bad just like being too smart is bad and dangerous, and dangerous is only good when its sexy and yep then its slutty so its still bad, but not as bad as fully owning it dangerous demanding respect because then you’re a bitch… and its just like FUCKINGODDAMNEVERYTHING – when you’re up against all that since birth, a violent society, a systematic asphyxiation, how’s a girl still wanna show her nice side, her compassion, her let you in, her show it off?”
Soft is stronger than hard
I can’t be reasonable. It’s just too limited.
My washing lines my room while I grasp for words and bravery to reach
to be fearless
I invited you because I didn’t want anyone to be alone. However it is, we should be able to be close to one another. When it is awkward, when we hold, when it is hard, when there is not light, when the glitter has run down the drain, when your body remembers, when my body remembers and dreams the shame you poured me let it be different. Let us be brave, let us be here.
“You have so much swagger”
I have been called many things in my life. And then lately someone called me a peacock. They made me screech and perform on a street corner, dancing on kerbs and feeling my spin stretch and lift sky proud, shimmering feathers, showing off.
Their butch found my femme, and there was joy and terror in it. Terrified of revealing, showing, wearing skirts which have always felt absolutely like sex to me. Of not being queer enough, political enough. If I care so much about expression and beauty and process and art and I don’t know the right words for anything, but I want to, is that enough? And if I can’t walk in high heels or write as well as I want, is that enough?
And if what I want to do when they tell you ugly things in your ear and threaten you and block my path is smother them with colour is this enough? And if when they make me fear to walk my own town without a big black coat if all I want to do is make an army of glittery dripping soldiers who flood bigness and love and wash the streets with shiny paths is this resistance enough?
We are in this together
Your one abandoned movement has opened a new room in me.
It is filled with treasure.
I got lost in Galerie Lafayette. I was at the perfume counter and everything was gold and sweet and pink. My ancestors sailed and fought and fell out for generations over gold. I waited there, waited for my ‘real parents’ to come pick me up. The ones who are millionaires. The ones who will buy me all of these gold things.
She says, sitting here, on this sofa, beside my daughter, I have to tell you, you have no idea what it is like to be a woman in this world.
I will always use everything I have to defend you. I have your back and I will put my body before them.
Write to him / Butch Femme
What have I not told you? I have not told you this.
That I would fight bare knuckle to be loved my whole life by bois like you
to find these places which are always being found, and always being lost and trying to speak
I would blood my elbows to get into here, to get the hands like yours all the way until I catch my breath and
I have not told you that this trying lusting experiment this reaching for more this balancing on faith is all there is
and all I want there to be and for all I look for nets when my head swims and loses its ground those nets are also made by us, by our kind, by all of our kind. There is kindness in queer.
I have not told you because the tide moves so fast and I am searching for words and moved before I can say hey
that was important.
I have not told you that yes we love in different ways and we love different things, but when we love each other, it is the right thing.
I have not told you that every sequin every shine that reflects us both every fierce every high heel every telling every showing every caring it is for me, and it is for you, because YOU SEE ME.
And that I defend this kingdom of mine tooth and nail and fight and beg and kneel before it and water it knead it rise it raise it hide it shelter it because I know what home is worth. Because I know the last ten years have recovered the former through digging in fits and starts what has been covered with a slow accretion of body saying YOU ARE NOT LISTENING.
What have I not told you? And what I cannot tell you in words I make in charcoal I slide against the wall with black in both my hands it is still and flat then soft and curved I can’t hold and fall with one long pencil line to the floor my knees raise me not because I want to but because I have to reach I feel your hands. This is where the pink goes later, flooding down one side and cracking open the black hood I hid in with eyes closed and forearms flat against the wall allowing, remembering.
All quotes are from essays in ‘Persistence, All ways Butch and Femme’, Pub Arsenel Pulp Press, Vancouver, 2011
With grateful thanks to all who made it possible for me to speak with honesty, bravery and integrity. You know who you are… big glittery femme love to you X
Also huge thanks to Mareika from http://this-is-hard-femme.tumblr.com/ and Lexi from http://femmeasfuck.tumblr.com/ and Phlossy Roxx http://www.missphloss.com for giving me permission to show your wonderful, inspiring femme blogs.
A special thanks to Kabel Manga, for being up there with me.
And to that Butch Boi, for all the adventures X
February 2013 – with Sandersons Gallery, Parnell, Auckland http://www.sanderson.co.nz/
Your abandoned movement has opened a new room in me will explore how we create open and yet private spaces to protect and encourage queer intimacy, identity and play.
This sculpture is a kind of human nest, a shelter which rests, holding onto a tree. Contingent, temporary and fluid, it is a shelter which opens and closes. Buffeted by the weather, it reveals its raggedness at the same time as its beauty. Built in various directions, with pockets, platforms and a myriad of spaces, it explores how we are presenting and finding space for identity at the same time we are creating and living it.
I have these fantasies. They go like this:
I will draw one thing
I will concentrate
I will fit one thing, on one piece of paper
It will be even
You will be able to read it
And as I am squinting at breadfruit and looking for where the shadows lie and what shape they really are, something shifts and I am shoulder against the paper, breathing green. I tell them think of it like falling in love, make your looking obsessive, don’t let go. They look at me like a wild thing, and when she shoves a rubber in fury towards me with her wrist I say YES, THAT! Put that on the page.
And it spreads, and I can’t help myself
It’s like when you write the word bed to me
It’s like when it finally rains here
Something opens anew, and it is not a room, but it feels like home, like remembering perfect sense
Things shift, catch and other, hold, spread and swarm.
She says I can only write by looking sideways and I say yes, they are all contained here, if we can only find trust enough to reach them
I have been called many things in my life. And then lately someone called me a peacock. I only knew from half dreams what they sound like. They made me screech and perform on a street corner, dancing on kerbs and feeling my spin stretch and lift sky proud, shimmering feathers, showing off.
Their butch found my femme, and there was joy and terror in it. Terrified of revealing, showing, wearing skirts which have always felt absolutely like sex to me. Of not being queer enough, political enough. If I care so much about expression and beauty and process and art and I don’t know the right words for anything, but I want to, is that enough? And if I can’t walk in high heels or write as well as I want to or build bridges to you or burn them in fury, is that enough?
And if what I want to do when they tell you ugly things in your ear and threaten you
and block my path is smother them with colour is this enough? And if when they make me fear to walk my own town without a big black coat if all I want to do is make an army of glittery dripping soldiers who flood bigness and love and wash the streets with shiny paths is this resistance enough?
We are in this together
I read you walking and stumbling eyes wide taking it in trying not to trip over curving roots and wishing to fall directly into soft places where hardness grows
Be slammed up against this backless place and push in return
Can we be more flexible?
These things they are my vents
I am looking directly now actually searching
I am looking directly now and there are many
I must create a space with safe open walls and you ask to come in?
Tell me your story
Open your mouth
And I say to you
Ride me home and my hips fit all the way up to my jaw and you say
I am the wind and I made the sound
This is not a note this is a stake
This is not a performance this is as best as I can say
Trust your instincts
Give them their space
I went to Samoa on a residency.. I wrote things, drew things, there was a cyclone coming…I want to talk about it in poetry.
Your news enters me, and in a rush
I am crying beside this woman who we are often quiet, and when I say how are you she says
I’m fucked. It’s hot.
I cry hot hard and she holds my head
You can’t see from there, but this is a moment of tenderness in days of sickness.
I am trying to be kind.
You tell me of broken bananas,, fleeing girls the trees cut, your house full of water, people, children, the generator beside the lonely rooster charging piles of phones so we can say are you ok are you ok where are you?
Does he cry a little less as they hum to him eight hours a day, and you trying to feed them all
simple meals, you say, my time to be alone is disappeared.
You say, the centre is gone, you say they sat on their roof and watched their house float, you say she is safe, we picked her up, you say her children are with us, you say he picked up a knife.
I know the knives are long black heavy steel swingers, you say
He picked up a knife, he hit his head, you know the one you danced with, the one in yellow you say
He worked for us for thirty years, you say we had to let him go, you say
It was hard.
I was making a drawing when it started coming and the light changed
I have said the only way I can describe it is that every speck of air was made of water and every drop reflected light, light, light.
Light you wanted to, light you could touch, swallow, breathe.
I have said the only way I can describe it is that the air, was, light.
How I wanted to escape, how I ran, clumsy, how my body knew, packing slowly folding two days because I didn’t want, to not
be onto it.
You say your posts were beautiful, I followed you
And I think of wide eyes driving
all the colours I didn’t expect, didn’t pack for
I thought of green,
But you showed me orange, pink, purple, red like bravery straight out of the tube
I tried to paint they are dusty and when I tell you my stories it is with them on my fingers
I am trying to write a different story.
One where it all happens at once
You say we picked her up, you say
I am trying to feed them, you say
We love your picture
We found it a wall
I think it has enough light